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Parents: Don't Downplay Childhood Obesity

Parents: Don't Downplay Childhood Obesity
Parents: Don't Downplay Childhood Obesity


Duke Health News Duke Health News

Recent studies suggest that many parents are ignoring the
health risks confronting their overweight children. Some view
it as a passing phase or cosmetic problem, while others fear
doing psychological harm by calling attention to a child's

Most parents are aware of America's childhood obesity
epidemic, but recent research indicates that many moms and dads
fail to recognize the problem in their own kids.

Gerald Endress, coordinator of the youth program at the
Duke Diet
and Fitness Center
, said any of several factors could cause
parents to overlook or downplay this potentially serious
medical condition in their children.

"In America we have this feeling that it's become the norm
to be overweight," said Endress, a certified exercise
physiologist. "It's important to see that sizes for kids have
increased just as much as for adults. It's more acceptable
nowadays to see kids who are overweight."

Endress said some parents feel they may do psychological
harm by pressuring their child to lose weight, and this
parental pressure could backfire.

"These parents are concerned that if they push too hard, the
kids will develop an eating disorder. So if a child is
considered obese by his physician, they're not sure how far
they should push the child to eat less and exercise more."

Other parents, said Endress, may regard a child's weight
problem as simply a phase, one they may have gone through

"Some parents view it as a cosmetic problem, rather than a
health problem. Others may believe that, if a child is
overweight but not obese, there's nothing to worry about, that
the child will grow out of it," he notes. "They'll use terms
like 'chubby' or 'baby fat,' to try and make light of the

"What we see, though, is that you can't look at a child and
know whether they're overweight or obese. A child could have a
lot of body fat and yet not seem to be that big. I think
parents look at it from the standpoint of, 'They'll grow up,
not out. But we're not seeing that in our society. We're seeing
kids grow out, with a higher waist circumference. They are not
keeping up with their growth weight.

"We see that there is a correlation between waist size and
health problems in the future. It's almost the same correlation
we've discovered with adults. Even more than the height and
weight ratio, or the BMI, the waist size is probably a better
indicator of future health."

Endress said most children with a weight problem have at
least one parent who is also overweight or obese. For these
parents, feelings of responsibility or guilt are common.

"I don't want to say that they're embarrassed that their
child is overweight. Some of them are uncomfortable with having
an overweight child. And, yes, some are uncomfortable with
their own body weight, that they're overweight themselves.
Sometimes I think it may be comforting to have someone else in
their family who is overweight and who's struggling with the
same things they are.

"I think the bottom line is that kids need to move more.
Most likely they're not going to get that activity in school.
The recommendations are also that they have at least some
structured playing time at home, and usually that works well
before homework, so they're more relaxed and more focused when
they do their homework.

Reducing 'screen time' spent on TV and video games also
helps a lot. And you can't do any of this without monitoring
the portion sizes and the type of foods that kids eat. If
parents don't understand where to make changes, they should see
a nutritionist or an exercise physiologist or someone who can
help them make better choices for their kids."

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